Bearded dragons are exciting, interesting and quickly becoming one of the most popular pet lizards. Their unique dragon-like looks and simple habitat setup makes them a great lizard for a beginner.
“Beardies” are often described as intelligent, fun and gentle.
They are known to have a very gentle nature making them friendly and easy to handle. They are also known to be tolerant of other household pets including dogs and cats.
Interested in knowing more about these awesome spiny lizards? Continue reading our care guide to learn more about how to feed, handle, and care for a bearded dragon. We also share husbandry tips and how to keep them happy and healthy for years to come.
All About Bearded Dragons
You may have heard of the Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) before, but did you know that they are a species of lizard from Australia?
In Australia many individuals can be found resting on asphalt and farm fences as they try to bask.
Beardies live in the desert areas of Australia in the rocks and sand. It is common to find them in scrublands, savannas and dry forests. Because of this they have a beautiful tan and brown marbled pattern along their back as well as down their long tails.
They are a group of non-venomous lizards that are related to other species like the Frill-Necked lizards and Thorny Devils.
Like many lizards in their family they have a line of small line of spines along their side, as well as a scaled ‘beard’ on the underside of their chin.
Their ‘beard’ is what they are named for, but it can also help to show you their mood.
They can project the flap of skin on their chin and puff it out to show off dark black scales to appear scary and to ward off predators. They are also able to stiffen the spines on the sides of their body to make them harder to grab or bite.
They tend to puff out their beard as a sign of aggression or turn the color to black as a sign of stress.
In the wild these lizards are usually defensive around people. If approached they will first show off their beard as a threat. Then they will open their mouth wide and bop their head. If they still feel threatened they can run over a short distance.
They also have one more interesting behavior known as bipedal locomotion. This happens in the wild when they run and lift their front legs using their long tail for balance. This allows them to run at high speeds!
While these behaviors are fun to watch, it is highly unlikely that you will ever witness it with a pet.
Pet beardies should not need to puff their beards or run away from predators!
Bearded Dragons are a very common pet lizard today, but they have not always been. In the 1950s they were often caught in the wild of Australia and transported throughout the world.
Australia has banned the export of all their native wildlife since the 1960s. While this practice became illegal in the 1960s, there were already a large number of species in the United States where breeders continued to breed and sell them.
There are now six species of Bearded dragons that are recognized today:
- Central (Pogona vitticeps)
- Western (Pogona minor)
- Eastern (Pogona barbata)
- Rankin’s dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni)
- Nullabor (Pogona nullarbor)
- Kimberly (Pogona microlepidota)
The most common type kept as a pet is the central species (Pogona vitticeps).
Bearded Dragons are stocky lizards that can reach a full grown size of roughly 24 inches. They have triangular faces and a strong flattened body with a long tail. They also have small spines that run along their chin and then continue to run down the sides of their body.
This species is normally tan or brown with darker brown markings down their backs.
However, breeders today have been able to produce individuals who are red, orange, yellow, white, and even light purple or blue. Many different morphs have been bred since the 1960s and some of the most popular are the Sandfire and Blood. Leucistic morphs are also popular for their white color.
Bearded Dragon Size
A full grown bearded dragon will measure between 18 and 24 inches.
Most are two feet in length from head to tail. At this size beardies are still easy to handle for beginners, provided they have been properly conditioned and have a docile temperament.
Hatchlings will be roughly four to five inches from head to tail. They are very small, but surprisingly difficult to handle as they are skittish and very active. For someone who is not experienced with handling reptiles they can easily be hurt.
Juveniles will be 10 to 14 inches and are much sturdier than hatchlings. They will be more manageable in terms of handling for beginners.
As a species they grow very quick!
When measuring a Bearded Dragon it is done from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. How wide the body is not a usual measurement as it fluctuates depending on how much heat an individual is trying to absorb.
The following bearded dragon size chart details the average size at different maturity stages. Keep in mind that this growth chart is only accurate if your lizard has been kept healthy and well fed:
|Hatchling||0 – 2 months||4 – 9 inches|
|Juvenile||2 – 6 months||8 – 18 inches|
|Subadult||6 – 12 months||16 – 22 inches|
|Adult||12+ months||18 – 24 inches|
The sizes above may be different for subspecies, as well as some of the morphs. There are also some breeders who have selectively bred for smaller or larger species too.
There are four main age categories; baby, juvenile, subadult, and adult. When looking to buy a Bearded Dragon make sure you find out which of these stages they are as it will help you with your care. Baby Bearded Dragons need a different diet and setup.
Are Bearded Dragons Hard To Care For?
Bearded Dragons are easy to care for as far as most pet lizards go. They have higher care needs compared to species like leopard geckos, but are often considered a good choice for dedicated beginners and can make the perfect pet for an older child.
Beardies will need a decent sized tank (75-gallon or more) that should be cleaned at least every two weeks. Lighting, cleaning and feeding should all be done under a set schedule so they become used to life as a pet.
Aside from the space necessary for a tank there are still some things to keep in mind.
One of the first issues many owners have is they want to immediately begin handling their lizard. This is bad for their mental health and can push back the time they need to adjust to their new home. Secondly hatchlings are very hungry and you will need to set aside time every day to feed them.
Bearded Dragons eat insects in their diet, preferably live ones to help encourage their natural instincts to forage for food. You will need space to accommodate keeping both your lizard and the crickets or other insects you chose to use for feeding.
Being comfortable and able to store fresh foods and insects is one of the most important factors when caring for them.
With adult species handling and feeding is not necessary every day. This makes it possible to fit their care of an adult Bearded Dragon into a full time schedule.
Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
Bearded dragons are one of the easier lizard species to care for because they do not require an extensive tank setup. They are also not picky eaters and most of their diet like fresh veggies, spinach and kale can be found at your local grocery store.
Beardies are also more tolerant of being handled and do not require multiple individuals in a tank to be happy. If you choose to bring one home, you will not regret it.
Providing your bearded dragon a great place to live is essential to their health and happiness.
To create a good habitat you will need:
- 75-gallon glass tank
- Reptile carpet substrate
- 2+ hides and perches
- Water dish
- Food fish
- 70W heat lamp
- 10.0 (10%+) UVB tube)
- Thermometer, humidity gage and thermostat
For the health and happiness of your reptile you should buy the tank setup they will need as a full-grown adult as soon as possible, even if you buy a baby. Adults should have a tank that is at least 50-gallons in size, but ideally 75 or 110 works better.
Providing your lizard with a tank over 50-gallons is essential to their health and happiness.
Some owners like to start hatchlings with a 20-gallon tank, but juveniles and adults should not be kept in a tank that small. Smaller tanks also make it very hard to get the right basking temperature, heat gradient and humidity.
You can choose to use a specific bearded dragon tank or regular glass fish tank with plywood top. You can also use a mesh top, but this can make it hard to maintain tank temperatures and heat gradients, especially for beginners.
A bearded dragon habitat is simple to setup, but they will require a heat lamp (i.e. basking bulb) and UVB tube.
Temperature and Lighting
Beardies require a basking lamp during the day and a UVB lamp to provide the necessary energy, vitamins and enrichment. The tank should have a temperature gradient to help with body heat regulation.
The hottest section of the tank should be kept at approximately 100°F (110°F for babies). Always measure the temperature directly from the basking spot using a thermal gun. The cooler side of the tank should be kept at 80 to 85°F.
You will need to have a heating lamp and a UVB bulb covering the basking spot.
The basking spot should have a perch such as a cork log, driftwood or a large flat rock so your beardie can bask comfortably and soak in heat and light. A basking spot can also function as a hide if there is adequate space underneath.
A heating lamp for bearded dragons should be set to a 12 hour light cycle to establish sleeping and eating patterns. A 70W heat lamp should be more than enough for a 75-gallon tank. The intensity of the bulb you buy will depend on the height of your tank, sometimes you may need to use a 100 watt bulb.
Try to avoid mercury vapor bulbs or using colored or night bulbs as they can be harmful to their eyesight.
You will also need a separate UVB bulb to cover the basking spot too. A good bulb is a 10.0 (10%+) UVB tube. This should be on during the day. Ideally 12-14 hours during the summer and 10-12 hours during the winter. Try to avoid coiled UVB bulbs.
In the night these temperatures can drop about 10 degrees as the lighting is turned off.
They do not need any night heat or light, unless tank temperatures drop much under 70°F. If it drops to under 65°F you can use an under tank heater. The lower night temperatures will naturally slow their metabolism down. Generally night lights will prevent them from sleeping properly.
Humidity levels should be kept between 30% and 35% day and night. This level may have to be increased during shedding to prevent stuck shed. Humidity can be increased by gently spraying a mist directly into the enclosure.
When choosing a substrate to line the bottom of the tank it is best to use newspaper, reptile carpet, laminate flooring or tiles.
Sand can accidentally be swallowed by your lizard. It will then harden and cause impaction (a serious medial issue). Stones, pebbles or small bark should also be avoided for the same reason.
Bearded Dragons also like to climb in their tank, meaning they are semi-arboreal. Adding decor they can climb will keep them engaged.
Your beardie will also need at least two hides and one perch, more is often better. Place one hide in the warm side of the tank and one on the cool side.
This hide on the cold side of the tank can also function as a “wet hide”. This means it is sprayed with water and has wet paper towels inside to allow them to shed more easily. Most owners will place a log as the third hide, but it is more of a personal preference.
For the rest of the enclosure make sure to spread out fake (or real) plants and rocks as a form of enrichment.
Bearded Dragon Tank Setup
A bearded dragon needs at a minimum a 50-gallon tank, but ideally this should be 75 or 110-gallons. This tank needs to have a reptile carpet substrate, 2+ hides, basking spot perch, 70W heat lamp and a UVB basking bulb tube (10.0 10%+).
The warm side of the tank under the heat lamp should have a basking spot and a hide. The cooler side of the tank should have a water dish, climbing decor and a wet hide.
The heat lamp and UVB bulb should both cover the basking spot. The UVB bulb can cover 70% of the tank.
You should clean the tank at least every 2 weeks depending on how dirty it gets. Remove feces and food waste daily.
Avoid buying kits, using mercury vapor bulbs, colored or night bulbs, coiled UVB bulbs and sand substrate. Do not use dial thermometers and humidity gauges. Digital thermometers that have a wired senor on the basking spot are much more accurate:
- Basking Temp: 100°F (110°F for babies).
- Day Temp: 80 to 85°F.
- Night Temp: ~70°F.
- Cycle: 12 on / 12 off.
- Humidity: Between 30% and 35% day and night.
In the wild bearded dragons mostly eat termites, occasionally flies and some plants.
They are opportunistic predators and will feed on whatever plants are available to them. Once they find prey they may stalk it before using their tongue to rapidly reach out and trap the prey. They will then chew it and swallow.
Bearded Dragons are omnivores and eat a mix of insects and plant. They eat a mix of these two over their entire life, but the ratio changes based on their age. Feeding the correct mix boosts their overall health and wellness and allows them to grow properly.
Juveniles eat a diet that is mostly insects as the extra protein aids in their growth. Juveniles eat more frequently with a ratio of 75% insects and 25% greens.
They should be offered small insects at least two times a day. Feed as much as they can possibly eat in 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure they eat at least 1-2 insects per feeding and that the insects are smaller than the width of their head. A simple calcium powder can be used to lightly dust the insects before feeding, this should be done only every other day.
Finally juveniles should be offered veggies and fruits but very finely cut up.
Adult eat a bearded dragon diet that is predominantly plants and greens. Aim for a mix of 20% feeder insects and 80% vegetables. These salads should be fed every day, or every other day for older individuals.
When looking for dark leafy greens there are some that are usually favored; spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, bok choy, broccoli or parsley. They should also be offered carrots, beans, squash, beat tops, zucchini and bell peppers.
The best insects to feed your Bearded Dragons are Dubia roaches and phoenix worms. These can usually be found both live and dead in most pet stores. Feeding live insects allows for them to follow their hunting instinct and provides a source of enrichment.
Fruits should not be fed too often for either juveniles or adults.
Never feed your bearded dragon insects that can be toxic such as the Monarch butterfly or fireflies.
|Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, bok choy, broccoli, parsley, carrots, beans, squash, beat tops, zucchini and bell peppers.||Dubia roaches and phoenix worms.||Mango, blueberries, raspberries and apples.|
To feed your bearded dragon insects you can use a funnel or tongs. You should use the food bowl to place the “salads” in the tank. Fresh water should be given daily.
There may be times when your lizard is refusing food. This can happen due to stress so make sure that their tank setup is good, in safe and quiet area and limit handling for a time. During brumation they may also seem sluggish or inactive and refuse to eat.
Bearded Dragon Lifespan
How long a Bearded Dragon lives can be greatly affected by the level of care that they are given. Because of this a bearded dragon lifespan can range from 4 to 15 years. There have been some instances where a few individuals have reached over 18 years of age!
To ensure a happy life there are a few common health problems to look out for.
Bearded dragon tail rot is where portions of the tail will turn dark brown and will die or rot. It is seen commonly in juveniles and is caused by either an inadequate diet, stuck shed, poor tank maintenance or incorrect lighting setup.
Mouth rot is similar to tail rot and is caused by a bacterial infection because of poor tank cleanliness.
Respiratory infections are also common with reptiles if they are not kept in a clean tank or the setup is wrong. High humidity and low temperatures usually cause respiratory infections that are difficult to treat. Some signs of a respiratory infection are wheezing, lethargy and open mouth breathing.
Another issue you may find is difficulty shedding.
Shedding is natural for reptiles but it can come with its own problems. Juveniles shed fairly regularly to accommodate their quick growth, but adults should also shed once or twice every year. When they are entering shed you will see their coloration begin to dull.
Do not help your lizard shed unless you absolutely have to. Pulling off the shed too soon can damage the new scales. Stuck shed often happens on tip of the tail and the toes. It can be caused because the humidity is too low (under 25%), or they do not have enough surfaces to rub their bodies against and rid themselves of their shed.
Impaction is one of the most common beginner issues you may run into. Some substrates (e.g. sand) can cause this if they ingest it while eating. Impaction causes a blockage in the intestines. If your Bearded Dragon is eating but no longer defecating they probably have an impaction.
Metabolic bone disease is a common health issue and is usually seen in juveniles. They can be lame and have soft jaws and or spinal deformities. Sometimes it can be treated, but it depends on the severity. Metabolic bone disease is often due to a lack of calcium supplements, using low-powered UVB coils and not replacing the UVB tube every six months.
Many beginners like to ask do bearded dragons like to be held? The answer is yes.
Bearded Dragons are a relatively easy going species, but it is best to slowly acclimate them to being handled when you get them.
They will need to be worked with every day to ensure a pleasant nature when handling.
Hatchlings and juveniles are less tolerant to being handled than adults. They are also smaller and very quick. This can make it difficult for a keeper, especially children, to train them to tolerate being handled.
If you are raising a hatchling start by interacting with them through hand feeding. If you try to handle them they will likely stress easily and not enjoy being picked up.
As they get older, try gently petting them with one to two fingers starting from the base of their neck to their tail. Over time they should get more and more used to your presence and perhaps even allow you to pick them up.
Do not rush this process!
When overly stressed even the most gentle of lizards have the potential to scratch or bite. They may try to bite or hiss if they are not handled regularly, or you move too quickly to handle them.
Do not try to handling when you are feeding them or when they are shedding. Also do not pick them up by their tail as it may cause harm.
Adults are easier to handle if they have been properly tamed.
Their aggression means they should only be housed alone or with a mating partner. Females could be housed together, but you would need a large tank and this is not something beginners normally do.
There are a couple of different behaviors you can look out for to determine aggression. Some common signs are opening their mouths, expanding their beard and lunging.
The beard under the chin is a major indication of aggression. When this is puffed out, revealing the darkened skin beneath the scales, they are trying to warn off a threat. In the wild this is how they scare potential predators.
Another display of aggression is when they leave their mouth partially open. While doing this they sometimes release a hissing type sound. It is a way to communicate that they are not happy.
They might also communicate with each other by head bobbing.
Slower head bobbing is testing each other or submission, but faster and increased movement is to show aggression and dominance. In the wild males might act aggressively to females if they do not show submission.
Temperaments of pet beardies are usually a calmer, especially if they have been properly handled from a young age. You are more likely to see your pet trying to dig and create a comfy basking spot, laying in an area with a flat body, twitching their tails during feeding and head bobbing.
- Needs at a minimum a 50-gallon tank, but ideally this should be 75 or 110-gallons. This tank needs to have a reptile carpet substrate or newspaper, 2+ hides, basking spot perch, 70W heat lamp and a UVB basking bulb tube (10.0 10%+).
- Keep the tank warm with a basking area of 100°F (110°F for babies) and a day temperature of 80 to 85°F.
- Avoid buying kits, using mercury vapor bulbs, coiled UVB bulbs and sand substrate. Do not use colored or night lights or dial thermometer and humidity gauges.
- Feed a variety of greens and insects with the exact proportion based off of their age. Juveniles will eat insects daily and the occasional greens. Adults will eat 80% greens most days and insects a couple of times a week. Veggies and fruits should be finely chopped to make a salad.
- Their lifespan can range from 4 to 12 years, but with exceptional care some can reach 15 years. Remember to setup their tank properly, keep a good heat gradient, make sure the tank stays clean and provide a healthy diet with supplements.
- You might see your lizard head bobbing, gaping, basking, shedding or rubbish their bodies to rid old skin. These are all normal behaviors. With proper handling and care your bearded dragon will be docile.
Why We Love Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragons are an amazing and popular pet. Their docile nature makes them a great choice for those who are new to taking care of reptiles.
Their tank is also simple to setup and does not need a lot of complicated equipment. A 70W heat lamp and a 10.0 UVB basking tube is all the equipment you will need for heating and lighting. Just make sure the tank is placed in a quiet room in the home!
If their tank is setup properly and cleaned regularly they can live a long and happy life of close to 12 years.
Buying a bearded dragon from a reputable breeder will also help to make sure they are healthy and easier to handle.
When compared with more traditional pets Bearded Dragons are easier to keep. With adult species handling and feeding is not necessary every day. This makes it possible to fit their care into a full time schedule.
They are perfect for beginning your journey as a pet owner. You will spend countless hours feeding, watching and handling them. They are a fun and calm pet to have around the house.